Shipster Investigates: Clothing Returns - 100 Shoppers Tell All

Repeat business is essential for online stores and can only be achieved with a seamless e-commerce experience - including an easy returns process.

A complicated returns process not only makes it difficult for the customer, and likely to deter them from future purchases, but a simple returns process can also be expensive for retailers, with consumers ordering more than they need, knowing that returning is a given.

We ran an online shopping survey, focusing on clothing returns, to really get to grips with how often and why customers return online orders.

When customers buy clothes online, how often do they return something from an order? 

 Although 31% of respondents claimed that they almost never return something, a chunky 22% return something about half the time. And with clothing and shoes being the most frequently returned online items, this isn’t surprising.

table of results

This percentage is likely to fluctuate based on the store the customer is buying from, however. If a customer has already experienced an easy returns process, they may be more likely to over-order next time, perhaps purchasing multiple sizes and styles, knowing that they won’t have any difficulty sending these items back. With the introduction of ‘buy now, pay later’, such as Klarna, consumers are able to order more items at one time, knowing that they’re likely to send some items back before they actually have to make the payment.

Similarly, experiencing a poor returns process may deter shoppers altogether or perhaps only purchasing items they’re familiar with or lower in value.


How important to customers is it that the clothing returns process is easy?

Simply put, extremely.

results graphics - more than half of participants rated importance over 80%

84% of respondents said a complicated process puts them off using the same store again, with 97% of people stating they’re more likely to return to the same store, if the returns process is simple and painless.

The data says it all; without a straightforward returns process, repeat custom is less likely and you’ll be spending more time dealing with unhappy customers, rather than sending new orders out.


Does a complicated returns process deter customers from using the same store again?

We'll keep it simple - yes.

pie chart - does a complicated returns process put you off using the same store again. 84% say yes.

Making it harder for customers to return items, or making customers pay for returns can be extremely detrimental to generating repeat custom. Although a consumer may have received a faulty item, surprising, this isn’t what’s putting them off buying from you again - it’s your complicated returns process.

Short returns periods can make customers feel stressed - and having a more lenient returns time provides customers with the chance to mull over (and ultimately keep) a purchase they may have returned, if they only have a few days to do so.

Does a simple returns process encourage customers to use the same store again?

A whopping 97% of our respondents stated that they would use the same store again if the returns process was simple and straightforward. 

does a simple returns process encourage you to use the same store again? - 97% say yes

Nearly 100% of respondents are likely to offer repeat custom because they feel reassured that if, for any reason, they did need to make a return, they could do so without worrying about a complicated and unnecessary process.


Are customers always 100% honest in the reasons for their returns?

Our data shows that 94% of customers are 100% honest when they return an item, stating exactly why the product is heading back to the warehouse. 

are you always 100% honest in your reason for return? 94% say yes.

And although 6% admitted they’re not always 100% honest, their reasons are definitely food for thought. Some respondents claimed that they were ‘embarrassed’ to state the real reason behind their return, which was backed up further by customers trying to be ‘polite’ or that they were worried their return may be refused.

why aren't you always honest with your return reason? Some respondents say its easier to lie or easier to simplify the real explanation.

Only a small percentage of our respondents stated that they felt it was easier to ‘lie’ in order to get a return - which could imply they felt uncomfortable with the store’s returns process not accepting their honest reasons.

The most important features of a good returns process according to our shoppers

According to our data, the four most important factors in a good returns process are:

- Parcel is received in resealable packaging that the items can be returned in (78 of 100 respondents)
- Store has provided a prepaid shipping label (71 of 100 respondents)
- A printed returns form and a form on the website (55 of 100 respondents)
- A nearby drop-off point, such as a post office or newsagents (55 of 100 respondents)

table of the 4 most important features of a good returns process

A good returns process is one that makes it as easy as possible for the customer to return an item. They’re provided with everything they need and there are no nasty surprises along the way i.e. having to print their own returns form (who owns a printer nowadays?!) or fund their own return.

Consumers are becoming more and more conscious of their environmental impact when ordering online. Having resealable packaging means customers aren’t having to use additional plastic waste to send their products back in. Bonus points if you can supply recyclable packaging too.

On top of this, only 9% of respondents selected a printed receipt option as an important feature. Any excess paperwork can be confusing, as well as having an impact on the environment.

From the data, it’s clear that consumers want a range of options when it comes to the returns process. They don’t want to be limited in how they can return i.e. courier collection or drop-off point, and there’s a tie between wanting to return via an online form or physical printed returns sheet.

Making things as convenient and accommodating as possible can attract loyal customers in the long-run.

Do consumers simply ever NOT return items (for no particular reason?)

Shockingly, 68% of our respondents claimed that they sometimes don’t return items that they should i.e. products they simply don’t want. 

Pie chart - Do you ever not return an item that you dont need anymore? 68% say yes.

This is a hefty amount of people who are keeping items they don’t need, causing an impact on the environment and perhaps preventing other customers from buying the products they need, due to low stock.

Although customers’ inaction is not necessarily a store’s fault, ensuring consumers are reminded of their purchases, such as review emails, can jog their memory. And if the returns window is lenient and lengthy, consumers could be persuaded to return their item and actually purchase what they need.

In fact, 38% of our respondents claim they flat-out ‘forget’ to return an unwanted order, which makes us wonder how much they needed that item in the first place…

Table - Why do you no always return unwanted orders? 38% say because they forget, 41% say because its not a priority and 10% say they just don't want to part with the items.

Almost half of the respondents claimed that it isn’t always a priority to them to return unwanted orders, perhaps indicating that having a longer return period would enable them to make that decision at a later date.

What top order value have you needed to return but didn't? 21% of participants said up to £10, 46% said up to £30 and 18% said up to £50.

This indecision could also be down to the low order value of products that need to be returned. Again, almost half of the respondents stated that the top order value of something they needed to return was up to £30. With higher value orders, consumers are far more likely to return - only 7% of our respondents have had orders of up to £100 that they’ve not returned.


The Round-up

Consumers want to return as easily as they can order. They also want options in the returns process, just as they have with payment and delivery. And it makes sense.

Although companies can potentially risk losing money with an accessible returns process i.e. free returns and lengthy-time periods - the risk of losing loyal customers is even greater.